The car honked at the small child on the road ahead of us. She looked to be only about two. The driver swerved around her and I winched, my fists clenched on my knees.
“I hate this. I hate this,” I said to myself. I said it out loud.
As our car pulled up on the side of the road, I had this sudden urge to run. It felt white, like a silent panic.
We were all silent. I looked Eden in the eye. I looked at Joy, and Misho, and Carly. I think I was rallying myself, searching for strength in their eyes, knowing they were experiencing the same thing.
This was the day we visited an urban Delhi slum. I feel haunted by what I saw this day. What I walked on. The smell. It was devastating.
I have been trying to write this post for 4 hours; the words come hard and I can’t get it right.
We weaved our way past tiny rooms made from brick and concrete, rubbish was under our feet and piled up above our heads on each roof top. These are the homes of the rag pickers. Rag Picking in India provides a source of income for the people in this community. The children sort through rubbish for plastic and metals, which they sell. I felt like crying — sobbing — as I saw little children crawling around in trash. The mother in me wanted to gather them up and give them a warm bath.
I was frozen inside, and I held my backpack close to my chest, willing it to give me comfort. (I found this picture taken my Misho, which shows how — I’m in the purple skirt — I clung to my backpack like a lifeline). I felt disappointed in myself then, at my reaction. But I shook it off because it wasn’t about me.
Children. I looked at the children running around. Really looked at them. I looked at their faces. They smiled and waved. They held out their hand to me. To be brutally honest here, I own that I hesitated to respond with my own hand. For a fraction I was tempted to smile it off in an attempt to hide my recoil. But when a hand is offered in joy and love — in honour — how can you not take it? How can you not respond? And so, I focused on that beauty and held my hand to every person, to every child who reached for me.
All these beautiful, beautiful children, with big brown eyes, white smiles and excited waves. Still, looking around, I felt a sense of sadness seeing these children run around on dirt and piles of rubbish, as my own children do on fresh grass at a beautiful park. There is something wrong with that.
After the whirl of initial excitement had passed, I met Lajja. She stood in front of me, as I sat in a plastic chair. I felt awkward and uncomfortable sitting while she stood. She looked right at me, and told me her story. I listen carefully to the foreign sounding words, hearing what she said through the way she said it, feeling it, and then waiting for the translation. She said World Vision taught her how to to clean and wash; and how to provide basic heath care for the kids. One of the girls from this community said that before World Vision came, they never had a bath before. Ever. World Vision also helped Lajja understand the importance of sending the children to the open school. She now trains other women in the community to do the same, and the education ripples like a pebble thrown in water. But still, change for this community is slow, because there are deep seeded mindsets and complex societal structures that penetrate and carry through the generations. Sustainable change is s-l-o-w. And I was struck in awe with the commitment and patient (oh-so patient) dedication shown by the people who work for positive changes in these communities.
I’ll never forget the last words Lajja she said, and how she said it. I held my camera in my lap and snapped the picture below (hoping it would turn out) as she said it. She said, “I’m old now, but for my children, there is hope.”
This post is in black and white, because I am torn and my heart breaks. This post is in black and white, because colour left me. The post is in black and white, because it needs to be.
Read all my posts from India here: Blog for Social Good — India.
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